AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — As the number of service members in Afghanistan rises, more aviation assets are needed in Operation Enduring Freedom to transport people and cargo throughout the battlefield.
Over the next couple of weeks, Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362, also known as the "Ugly Angels," will be transitioning from Iraq to Afghanistan to answer the Marine Air-Ground Task Force's call for additional lift capabilities in Afghanistan.
"The need in OEF to transport using aircraft is high due to a bigger threat to ground movement," explained Maj. Richard Matyskiela, the HMH-362 executive officer. "There are heavy lift elements in Afghanistan already, but moving everything with just them would result in over-tasking."
The more secure Iraq becomes, other means of transportation such as vehicle convoys, are being used to move personnel and cargo, resulting in less work for helicopter squadrons like HMH-362.
"The best way to say it is that we have more assault support here than is needed now," said Matyskiela. "Once we move out of Iraq, there will still be plenty of lift capabilities to pick up where we are leaving off."
Preparing for the transition to OEF has brought new challenges for the Marines of HMH-362. The maintenance Marines installed 20 new and stronger engines on their ten, double-engine aircraft, giving every CH-53D Sea Stallion more power. The Marines also ensured all maintenance was up-to-date and prepared the helicopters for transportation on an Air Force C-17.
"There was a lot more that went into this deployment than the initial deployment to Iraq," said Sgt. Mathew Crooks, a CH-53D crew chief with HMH-362. "We didn't deploy to Iraq with the aircraft; they were already here. Now we are taking everything."
Crooks went on to say that to prepare the aircraft for transportation, known as a C-17 breakdown, The Marines removed the main rotor blades and gear box, repositioned the auxiliary fuel tanks, and removed other components to ensure the aircraft would fit inside the cargo planes.
"The Marines have done a fantastic job executing operations here, and have stepped up to the plate in getting everything done that is needed for this transition," said Matyskiela.
In addition to readying the aircraft for use in Afghanistan, the Ugly Angels have conducted various training operations to prepare themselves for OEF. The training included external cargo lifts and desert landings, which create "brown out" conditions where the rotor blades' downwash kicks up sand, resulting in poor visibility. The Marines also received classes about the culture and environment they are about to be surrounded by, said Matyskiela.
"A lot of the building blocks preparing us for OIF are directly applicable to current operations in OEF," said Matyskiela. "The difference in altitude and the mountainous terrain will be the biggest environmental differences for operations."
In the next two weeks, the entire squadron will move to Afghanistan. Crooks went on to say that while the initial arrival is predicted to be a lot of work for the Marines in getting space and supply issues worked out, the Marines welcome the change in pace.
"We are looking forward to the task and are ready to get into the fight over there as things become more and more peaceful in Iraq," said Matyskiela.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq's Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.
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This work, Spreading their wings: 'Ugly Angels' deploy from Iraq to Afghanistan, by Cpl Ryan Young, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.